I wanted to let Monroe County know the seriousness of the school board squandering Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) monies used to fund the FAC. Once these monies are spent, the tax dollars are gone. And since the Board of Education (BOE) campus is the largest asset, once buildings are built in a location, the buildings can’t be moved again. The location of the FAC affects the use of the rest of campus land and location of other buildings – the Agribusiness Center, parking, more classrooms, etc. It is not too late to move the FAC to the Montpelier Road entrance of the High School. Whether the FAC is built on Brooklyn Ave or Montpelier Road, the high school entrance will always be on Montpelier because it is the quickest way to the high school building. And the Montpelier Road Entrance is closest location for a FAC where students can walk to it. Why would you put a FAC away from the main campus where the majority of students can’t walk to it? There is room for much more parking at Montpelier Road entrance. Why displace some of the parking for the football stadium with the FAC. Why not let the historic high school building be the front facade on Brooklyn Ave? It needs painting, landscaping, and repaving of parking lot which is much cheaper than locating the FAC there. We pride ourselves on preserving the historically significant buildings around the square and yet we want to hide or dwarf our old high school building with a huge FAC? And let me say the FAC will not be big enough for graduation ceremonies without splitting the ceremony in half or limiting families to 3 members each which will not make folks happy. So what is the driving reason for the FAC to be located on Brooklyn Ave? Is it a big facade on the city side of campus for the BOE to take credit? It certainly does not benefit the students. Why not decide on a master plan which should drive everything and save money? If you don’t have a master plan then you are going to waste money. The BOE is already spending 200% more than they should on the FAC. But significant cost are down the road when you build other buildings, pave additional parking, and build additional classrooms will compound the wasteful spending by not having a connected plan in the center of campus. Again, we have 74 acres to plan and build on. There is plenty of land if planned well. Parking lots should not drive a campus plan, the location of students and their classrooms should drive building locations.
Let’s talk about why the community did not have consideration or discussions of a master plan. And why did the BOE not discuss possible options and then bring it to the community for input? Then our community would certainly have felt like they had more buy in to what was going on and where their tax dollars were being spent. Why did the BOE not want more inclusion of our community? Could it be that they had dirty hands in that they were less than forthright in their dealings with me? You remember, first they had to condemn my property to straighten a road that had no problems for 20 years. Then the condemnation was for FAC parking which they have the green space currently to have enough parking and beside the BOE created the problem locating the FAC on Brooklyn. Now they want me to spend money with architects, civil engineers, clearing land and house, without a written agreement to not condemn my property? As it turns out they wanted to condemn it all along! This is why Dr. J. Ray Grant and Mr. Pack did not want to let me speak at a public meeting of the Board where I was going to ask why would they not give me any assurance in writing the first of this year? I want everyone to understand the position I am facing with the BOE, who would not give me anything in writing so therefore, if I spent money on developing my property they would offer to pay for the land on the cheap but not cover any expenses related architects, civil engineers, land clearing, etc. This is not how you treat any citizen.
Now, let’s discuss some options that a forward thinking BOE should have considered for a student driven campus. Option 1, put the FAC on Montpelier Road, the Agribusiness Center put where the current field & track is located, use the track at Monroe Academy, and restore the old high school building as central focus on city side, landscaping, and parking lot. (The big positive here is having all the new buildings near the existing high school where students can walk to all classrooms – the campus is centered!) Option 2, put the FAC on Brooklyn Ave where currently planned, the Agribusiness Center on front of Montpelier, all ball fields are left where they are, and additional classrooms can be built behind old high school building. (The positive here is all buildings are kept on original campus but the FAC is away from center of campus and only driving distance of students.) Option 3, add classrooms at Monroe Academy and renovate the gym, upgrade the classrooms at high school, increase the football stadium seating and use some the athletic fields for parking lots, any athletic fields taken for main campus can be replaced on the Monroe Academy fields. (The big positive here is you allow for more classroom expansion of high school which I hear is a concern of civic leaders in keeping one high school for Monroe County. But you would use fully both campuses and would be more costly.) Option 4, has not even been considered which discriminates against me as a property owner in the city limits. Mr. Newton has 237 acres along the southeast side of the high school and track that could be bought by BOE encompassing 20-30 acres that would accommodate FAC, Agribusiness Center, animal fenced areas, additional high school classrooms, and keep all athletic fields on main campus. (The positive here is all buildings keep the student body in center of campus within walking distance and all athletic fields on main campus. The old historic high school building can be preserved and enhanced with landscaping and repaving parking with curbs.) This last option does not take away from Mr. Newton’s development plans or negatively impact his property. I would argue it would enhance his property. Since my property is only 12 acres with road frontage and all utilities, I cannot easily replace this property. I don’t have the abundance of property next to the school, but Mr. Newton does. Option 5, is building the FAC on Brooklyn, put the Agribusiness Center on my property along with parking lots which has been the BOE’s preliminary thoughts even though they say they have no plans. If so then the BOE should pay me cash or swap the Monroe Academy property for my senior community project. (This later plan is more costly because they would be buying my property, tearing down the old houses, and clearing the land of huge trees. And it divides the campus with over half mile between current high school and new buildings. Further no use is made of Monroe Academy other than the BOE pays interest on a note.) So there you have it and there is no perfect plan but some careful consideration should be given to all options and which combination makes the most sense? We all have a stake in these decisions and as you can see they have long term effects on our community both in stewardship and legacy. The costs will be paid both now and in the future with additional taxes. The School Board action has an impact on all our youth into the future.
There is no current Board member who has project development or construction experience. At the next election, we need some folks with experience running for a Board seat so that a master plan can be brought to our community with a budget and vision that makes sense. Currently, we have no plan and apparently no budget controls. Who will step forward?